Review: The Scarecrow King

The Scarecrow King by Jill Myles was recommended to me a while ago, and I just recently got around to reading it. It is a delightful retelling of "King Thrushbeard" in a traditional fairy tale world where all stories are connected. Though there were few references to other fairy tales in this book, it was a clever touch that the main character was the daughter of the protagonist from "Rumpelstiltskin" who was blamed for her mother's incompetence of being unable to turn straw into gold after becoming queen. The book plays on a lot of the questionable elements of "King Thrushbeard," which was originally a pretty messed-up story about an abusive relationship with a princess who was lied to and manipulated to teach her a lesson. Here, the book expands upon why the princess acted the way she did and forces her husband to face the consequences of his actions, making for a more well-rounded story that fixes the problematic issues of the original fairy tale.


Princess Rinda spent most of her life in the shadow of her sister, Imogen. Her abusive father and those around her constantly reminded Rinda that Imogen was a better princess in every way possible. Unlike Rinda, Imogen had blonde hair that was valued throughout her kingdom as a sign of great magic. Her power to create water was a boon to their people, ensuring that everyone stayed safe and healthy in times of drought. Rinda, on the other hand, inherited a paltry power to bring luck to objects by touching them with her blood. She deems this ability useless and never gives it much thought. One day, her father decides to marry her off and throws a ball for Rinda to find a suitor. Rinda, not wanting to leave her cushy life in the palace, decides to act out and make herself as undesirable as possible to get revenge on her father. Unfortunately, the plan backfires, and her father marries her off to an unknown minstrel as punishment.

This book does a great job of fleshing out the two-dimensional personalities of the characters from "King Thrushbeard." Instead of being a spoiled brat who learns humility, Rinda reacts surprisingly well to her unfortunate situation when she realizes she is married to a dirt-poor minstrel who can't carry a tune. She is understandably upset when he gives away all her beloved dresses. However, she makes the most of their situation when they are forced to travel through dangerous terrain by using her magical ability to enchant firewood to ensure they stay warm and weapons to ensure they stay safe. Alek, her husband, is so impressed by her power that it makes her question why she ever thought it was useless. Anyone who is familiar with "King Thrushbeard" knows the truth about Alek's identity, but Rinda has few suspicions that he is not poor after being forced to sleep in the dirt and find a new home in a run-down shack. Over time, she comes to accept Alek for who she believes he is and falls for him as a person until her understandable reaction to learning that he had deceived her to keep her safe.

For a standalone fairy tale novel, this book takes place in a surprisingly robust world. I could easily see this being the start of a series of fairy tale retellings. It has a great deal of potential for other stories between the magical powers of the inhabitants of Rinda's kingdom and the political intrigue of Alek's kingdom. I would also be happy to read a prequel about Rinda's mother, who was forced to spin straw into gold despite having few powers of her own and likely came into contact with Rumpelstiltskin at some point before Rinda was born. There were so many descriptions of the terrain in the two kingdoms and the lands between them that it felt like a real place with the potential for many other adventures for future characters to face in other stories. Aside from the setting, the book has a strong and believable romance about an insecure princess recovering from trauma and learning to love herself through the eyes of someone who sees things in her that no one else does.

The Scarecrow King by Jill Myles is a delightful retelling of "King Thrushbeard" in a traditional fairy tale world where stories intertwine. Myles masterfully expands upon the questionable elements of the original fairy tale, breathing new life into the characters and mending problematic issues. Princess Rinda is a relatable and complex character burdened by an abusive past and overshadowed by her sister. As the story unfolds, Rinda's journey toward self-discovery and self-acceptance is beautifully portrayed, challenging the notion of spoiled princesses. The intricate world-building provides a captivating backdrop with the potential for more tales from this enchanting realm. Without relying on clich├ęd conclusions, The Scarecrow King presents a well-rounded and compelling narrative, reminding us of the power of redemption, resilience, and the ability to rewrite our own stories.

Comments

Sugar said…
I'm glad you liked the story as much as I did! From what I have seen, the author usually writes steamy books and this one was more of an exception, but she certainly did it well and it would be nice if she wrote more of the same style.
There are few retellings of this tale I only know of Kate Stradling's book "Maid and Minstrel" apart from this one.
Surprisingly, there are also donkey skin retellings, if that terrible tale of the father who wishes to marry his daughter, "Deerskin" by Robin McKinley is incredibly dark and uncomfortable to read but overall it is important, in itself it is the story of how his protagonist the princess recovers from sexual abuse, understands that it was not her fault and finds love.
On the other hand, Chantal Gadoury has her own version "Allerleirauh" it is less dark in its entirety and has much more of the classic background of dances and beautiful dresses that we associate with princess stories, her love interest is a more traditional prince who is kind and understanding, Although both books are similar in addressing the topic of sexual abuse, I don't know if it was necessary to make the story even darker than it already is in that sense, but it conveys an important message for any victim: "it's not your fault."
Lisa Dawn said…
Camille Peters' Voyage was also a retelling of King Thrushbeard.

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